The cervix is the lower part of the womb (uterus) that joins to the top of the vagina. It is sometimes called the neck of the womb. Cancer that starts in this area is called cancer of the cervix or cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer develops very slowly from abnormal cell changes in the cervix. These changes do not cause any symptoms, but they may be found with cervical screening tests. If the tests show abnormal cell changes, treatment can prevent cancer developing.
Each year, more than 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK.
Types of cervical cancer
There are two main types of cervical cancer. The most common is squamous cell carcinoma. This develops from a type of cell that covers the outside of the cervix at the top of the vagina.
The other type is adenocarcinoma. This develops from a different type of cell found in the cervical canal (the endocervix).
Other rarer types of cervical cancer include:
- adenosquamous carcinoma
- clear cell carcinoma
- neuroendocrine carcinoma or small cell carcinoma of the cervix
These types are much less common and may be treated differently. If you need more information, contact our cancer support specialists.
Very early-stage cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms. It is usually found and treated because of cervical screening tests.
Common symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- heavier periods that you normally have
- vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex, or after the menopause.
We have more information about the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.
If you get symptoms between your regular cervical screening appointments, do not wait for your next appointment. Talk to your GP or practice nurse and get checked out. These symptoms can be embarrassing, but your GP or practice nurse will understand.
The main risk factor for cervical cancer is an infection called the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are over 100 types of this virus. Some types of HPV can affect the cervix and cause abnormal cell changes that may develop into cervical cancer.
You usually start by seeing your GP. They will examine you and may refer you to the hospital for a specialist assessment and tests. If your GP suspects you may have cancer, they will refer you urgently to the hospital and you will be seen within 2 weeks.
If you have had an abnormal smear test following your cervical screening test, you may be referred directly for a colposcopy. This test uses a microscope called a colposcope to look closely at your cervix.
If the colposcopy shows abnormal cells on the cervix, you may also have treatment to remove the abnormal cells.
We have more information about diagnosing cervical cancer.
A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
The treatment you have depends on:
- the stage of the cancer
- the size of the cancer
- your general health
- if you have been through the menopause
- if you want to have children in future.
Treatments may include:
Targeted therapies are drugs that target something in or around the cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive. If you have advanced cervical cancer you may have a targeted therapy in combination with chemotherapy.
You may have more than one of these treatments. You may also have treatment as part of a clinical trial.
Some treatments for cervical cancer can affect your ability to get pregnant (fertility) or cause an early menopause. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about the things you should consider when making treatment decisions.
You and your specialist doctor will decide on the right treatment plan for you. Your doctor is an expert in the most effective treatments. But you know most about your own situation and preferences.
We have more detailed information about how cervical cancer is treated.
After your treatment has finished, you will have regular check-ups with your cancer doctor or nurse. These may include a physical examination, blood tests, x-rays or scans. We have more information on follow-up care after treatment.
Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.
Making small changes such as eating well and keeping active can improve your health and well-being and help your body recover.
You may get anxious between appointments. This is natural. It may help to get support from family, friends or a support organisation.
Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:
Below is a sample of the sources used in our cervical cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marth C, et al. on behalf of the ESMO Guidelines Committee. Cervical cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2017. 28(s4): iv72-iv83. Available at www.annalsofoncology.org/article/S0923-7534(19)42148-0/pdf
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Menopause. Quality standard (QS143). 2017. Available at www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs143
Farthing AJ and Ghaem-Maghami S on behalf of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). Fertility Sparing Treatments in Gynaecological Cancers. 2013. Available at www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/scientific-impact-papers/sip_35.pdf
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.
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